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Ohio Supreme Court Takes Up Another Photo Ticketing Case
Ohio Supreme Court justices express skepticism at effort by Cleveland to avoid repaying illegally issued red light and speed camera tickets.

Ohio Chief Justice
By Richard Diamond

Cleveland, Ohio, is still paying the price for its decision to install red light cameras and speed cameras seven years after 78 percent of voters forced city officials to pull the plug. The state Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral argument in a suit that could hold the city liable for $4.1 million in refunds for motorists who leased or rented their vehicles and received automated tickets not authorized by law.

Cleveland's original photo ticketing ordinance only allowed issuance of a ticket to the "owner" of a vehicle photographed by the privately owned and operated machines. The Court of Appeals in 2009 invalidated citations issued to people who leased their car, and the high court let this decision stand as final (view opinion). Cleveland's attorney, Gary S. Singletary, argued that even though the tickets were invalid, drivers with leased cars could not do anything to get their money back because they failed to first attend an administrative hearing run by the city and then file an subsequent appeal in the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.

"I'm going to stop you there," Justice Jennifer Brunner said. "A 2506 appeal is to the Common Pleas court, and it requires a record. For a $100 traffic ticket, how easy is that for an ordinary citizen, and how meaningful an appeal is that?"

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, one of the court's most vocal camera proponents, appeared skeptical about the value of the administrative hearing since a city employee admitted in a deposition that any claims regarding leased, rented or borrowed vehicles were automatically ignored in the proceeding.

"That's the city admitting it would have been futile," the chief justice said. "If they would have gone to the hearing, they would not have been successful."

The lawyer for motorists, Paul W. Flowers, explained that it took the plaintiff in this two years of litigation to pursue a "2506" appeal in the Common Pleas court. It would have been a massive burden to require every leased car owner to go through that process.

"You can't do one of these without a lawyer, which by itself is going to cost thousands of dollars you don't get back," Flowers said. "If you win, yeah, you don't have to pay your ticket, but you still pay your lawyer, and you're going to pay those court costs up front... It's not an effective remedy."

Past rulings by Ohio's justices have narrowly supported the arguments made by cities and for-profit speed camera vendors on questions of photo enforcement, but the court's membership has changed. It upheld the application of an anti-speed camera law last year.

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